Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This is what happens when I have this much free time on my hands... and really, really want to win a contest.

If you haven't already heard, Cindy Pon is having a contest for an ARC of FURY OF THE PHOENIX, the sequel to SILVER PHOENIX. I had the pleasure of meeting Cindy at one of Kiersten White's signings, and also managed to finally track down (and buy) a copy of SILVER PHOENIX for my very own that night, which Cindy was awesome enough to sign for me as well.

Cindy asked her followers to enter the contest by telling her what they loved about SILVER PHOENIX in a creative way. I've been thinking about the contest and how I could be creative about this pretty much since she announced it on her blog, and only came up empty. I knew what I loved about SILVER PHOENIX, but I'm not an artistic person, so drawing, etc., was out. But just writing about it didn't seem like enough.

And then I got my brilliant (read: crazy) idea. I just spent the last nine months handcrafting everything imaginable for our wedding-- why not show Cindy what I loved about her book the same way?

Yeah, I made something to show what I loved about SILVER PHOENIX. But it's probably not what you'd expect.

What I loved about SILVER PHOENIX was, at the most basic level, the introduction (for me) to Asian mythology. This is an area that I feel is under-explored in Western culture. Sure, most of us are familiar with-- and fond of-- the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, but I will be the first to admit that there is a gaping hole in my knowledge of the East-- one that I would love to fill. Cindy does a marvelous job not only bringing this mythology to a place where it's accessible, but making it come to life with vivid imagery and a beautiful story.

When I was thinking of what to make, I tried to think of the place in the book that most summed this up for me My immediate answer also happened to be one of my favorite parts. Ai Ling (the main character), Chen Yong (her romantic foil), and Li Rong (Chen Yong's brother) climb on the back of a dragon and fly up to a mysterious mountain top where the gods await them. This was what I decided to portray.

Ladies and gentlemen, and Cindy! I give you--

The Gardens of the Golden Palace

I decided to represent the early part of the garden, including the five trees mentioned, because I loved them, and the detail that went into describing them. Here are my versions.

The Love Lost Tree (those red things are supposed to be human hearts):

The Eternal Berry Tree:

The Tree of Immortality:

A (horrible) close up of the panther. I unfortunately do not have the sculpting skills to have included all nine heads.

The Observant Tree:

And last but not least, the Tree of Life:

And here's some more views of the garden as a whole:


The murky mess in the back of the pagoda is supposed to be the scarlet river but it came out decidedly less scarlet than I'd hoped. I also didn't have time to build the rosewood table that's supposed to go inside. And I've just realized after a fiftieth re-read that the gates are supposed to be cinnabar, not gold. Ah well.

You can read about the gardens of the Golden Palace and the context behind my little diorama starting on page 155 of SILVER PHOENIX!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

O Christmas Tree 2010

I love this time of year. It doesn't matter which holiday you celebrate, or even none at all, there's something about November and December that just permeates through you. Unless you're feeling miserly, in which case, bah humbug to you as well.

WH and I got our Christmas tree today. Last year, the tiny hellcats decided it was AWESOME of us to provide them such a complicated toy and proceeded to destroy our faithful fake tree between its raising shortly after Thanksgiving, and actual Christmas day. And by destroy, I mean that they bent ALL the branches, so the tree looked like a giant version of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, pulled all of the ornaments off, and stripped the fake plastic needles from the branches with an efficiency I'm sure would make us millions if we could refine and find an application for it.

This made me sad. In fact, a couple days before last Christmas I tried to convince WH to replace the fake tree with a real one. "They can't bend those branches," I argued. I even went to a lot and looked around, deciding on a Douglas Fir because they have really dense, thin branches that I was convinced our cats couldn't climb up into because their weight wouldn't be supported. But WH firmly brought me back to earth, saying that with such a short time to go until Christmas, we'd be better off just waiting until next (this) year.

So I waited. And waited. I may or may not have forgotten about the tree with the whole engagement-wedding thing that happened this year, but you KNOW I remembered as soon as I started seeing Christmas decorations out in the stores.

I started pestering WH to get this year's tree a few weeks ago, still convinced we could handle getting it earlier this year because the cats wouldn't be able to achieve the level of destruction they did last year. He staunchly believes that Christmas anything before Thanksgiving is wrong, so I tried to be patient. My patience failed on Thanksgiving morning. I decided we would go get the tree on Sunday, but that was as long as I was going to wait.

This morning arrived, and we picked out our tree at the local Home Depot. We got it home, and set it up, and poured water in the stand. I went and got the tree skirt I'd been saving for a few weeks and after we swept up needles four or five times, laid it out around the base of the tree.

The cats so far seemed respectful, but that was a lie. As soon as we stopped immediately touching the tree, they moved in. Sniffing, at first, then batting at the branches and watching the resulting swaying, then chewing on the needles, then chasing each other around the base and dislodging the tree skirt, and then-- oh, then-- the dreaded jumping.

I was in the kitchen, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, when I saw the tree shaking in a velociraptor-enclosure-in-Jurassic-Park kind of way. A quick search through the branches doing the most shaking revealed a familiar gray, stripey face peering out at me from about my waist level. I wish I'd gotten a picture of this, but I know I'm not the first person ever to have a cat crawl in a Christmas tree, so please use your imaginations.

It's only been a few hours, but the tree is still standing tall, if leaning ever-so-slightly. We are holding off on the decorations, though, until the novelty wears off, which it hopefully will. Soon. I've also given up on the tree skirt as it's a pain to put on and they just keep ripping it off every five minutes.

At least they've tired themselves out somewhat. Maybe we won't wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of the tree crashing to the floor? Maybe? Ah well. I can hope, right?

Here's a picture of the tree climber, taking his much-earned rest after a hard day's destruction. Don't let the soft innocence and adorable stripes fool you.

Merry happy holiday season everyone. It has officially begun!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An interesting breakfast and a review: Gary Corby's THE PERICLES COMMISSION is on sale at major booksellers today!

Gary Corby's debut novel, THE PERICLES COMMISSION, comes out at the major booksellers today (heretofore only available at a few indie bookstores).

In honor of Gary's book, I have braved the depths of the gift that Gary brought me from his homeland down under, which you may remember from this post: Vegemite. What is Vegemite, you may ask? Well, on the tube I have, it says "Concentrated Barley Extract." Sounds delicious, no?

Supposedly, there is a whole continent of people who actually like this stuff. I'm not entirely convinced that it's not just a prank they play on foreigners. I've had it once before, a long, long time ago, and that was enough to scar me for life. But for Gary, an all-around awesome guy, I chanced it again.

First though, I had to make sure that the tube was free of demons. I did this by letting the cats smell it.

This may not have been the best test, because they'll smell anything.

But they seemed to like it. Nyxie even licked it and didn't immediately keel over, so I decided it was safe for me to try.

So, I got out the necessary ingredients, according to my Australian author-friend Gary: toast, butter, and of course, the Vegemite.

He advised a very thin layer. It came out kind of watery at first and then like toothpaste the color of the pits of hell. I did my best, but... stupid bagels and their stupid nooks and crannies. There were little Vegemite mines all over it.

It took me a full five minutes to work up the courage to actually put that in my mouth. I of course filled this time by cleaning up, repeatedly.

Note the look of fear already on my face (and sorry these next couple pics are so dark):

And the reaction shot:

Time for a cure! I grabbed a glass of water but even that could not tame the saltiness.

So I reached for one of these, and whaddya know-- it worked!

Mmmm, cookies!

So that, my friends, is Vegemite. I've survived (long enough) to write this blog post, and I have to admit that it wasn't AWFUL. Just, you know, horrible. Kidding! Okay, it was... interesting. Let's put it that way. If you like salt, you'll love Vegemite. (And Gary, I am grateful for the gift, as you should know. There are ALL sorts of things I can do with the rest! Mostly pranks involving my husband and the sort of close friends who won't never speak to me again, but it will get used, don't worry!)

And now, on to something we can all love: Gary's book.

I'll keep this review short and sweet because a.) I think book reviews can be terribly dull and b.) you really should just go buy it and read it for yourself. But here goes, my (un)professional opinion.

In brief, a summary:

Nicolaos, the son of a sculptor in Athens at the very roots of democracy, must investigate the murder of Ephialtes, an important politician, and protect his new-found love interest, Diotima, from a fate worse than death: marriage to a jerk. Yeah, I said jerk. I know, I know, but it's not like I'm Booklist or Publisher's Weekly. Anyway, back to the story. Nicolaos (Nico) is commissioned to investigate the murder by Pericles, another up-and-coming politician, who promises to tutor the young man out of his sculptor roots and into politics if he catches the killer.

What I loved about it:

For a history buff like me, this is the easiest part: the history. Gary does a fantastic job of putting you smack dab in Athens in the fifth century B.C.E. I loved this book because it is like no other out there right now. There are other historical mysteries, but none quite like this. Not only do you feel and experience the world of Classical Athens (and despite being a city, Athens really was a whole world back then), but you are there right at the birth of democracy. It feels like a history-buff's dream-- going back in time to watch as something important unfolds. Gary makes a promise to his readers that he will treat the story and the history diligently, and he doesn't disappoint.

I also loved how the story kept me guessing about the killer even after I was assured by the narrator that I knew the answer. This is a masterful tactic and one that I've rarely seen employed in modern mysteries; it recalls to me the likes of Agatha Christie novels, which are the mysteries I was teethed on.

What I didn't like about it:

Not much of anything. In fact, the only thing I can really think of is that there were so many story lines coming together at the end that it did get a little confusing, especially because there were two pivotal characters with the same name, which often made it difficult to tell which was which. This, however, did not ruin the book for me or take me out of the story, but rather just made me have to read an eensy bit more carefully, which in a book full of intellectualism, isn't exactly a bad thing.

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend THE PERICLES COMMISSION to everyone who loves history and a good who-dun-it. I can't wait for books two and three (and beyond)! And I must mean it since I'm still saying it after the man tried to kill me with Vegemite.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I'm cheating and cross-posting this at the Archives, but that's because it's November 1st and I am BACK

So, while I was gone, several things occurred. One of them was rather large and amazing, one of them was rather large and sucky, the rest ranged from spectacular to average, but all in all, I'd have to say that it was a pretty good 2-3 months. Rather than trying to remember all these events, I've decided instead to answer some lingering questions you're all sure to have:

Q: Did you get married?

A: Why, yes I did! Here we are, looking hot and loving and adorable and all that:

(Photo by the amazing Kate Williams of Chasing Daylight Photography)

My wedding was a dream come true. I couldn't be happier with my new husband, and boy is it nice to have time for other things! (Like blogging, and writing, and breathing. Always nice, that). Whether you care or not, I will probably be posting some pictures and a mini-recap in the near future-- unless that ever-loving mistress of the procrastinators, laziness, prevents me from doing so-- when I get more pictures, and get them organized, and all that.

Speaking of having more free time:

Q: Are you still working?

A: Um . . . no, actually. Yeah. That's the pretty major thing that's happened that sucks. It's fairly recent, and through no fault of my own, and hopefully we'll be okay. But still. Suckage.

Still, I am optimistic. And trying not to view this "Oh hey! I'll finally have real writing time!" Because making money so we can eat, and our furry babies can eat, is more important than all-the-time-I-could-ever-want-to-write. Right?

Moving on.

Q: Did you find an agent?

A: No, no I did not. For a very simple reason: you have to query agents in order to risk that they might sign you, and I haven't been querying. Rest assured, despite my assertions above, SOME of my new-found free time will be spent querying. Just not, you know, most of it.

Q: Did you get to meet any fabulous authors?

A: I did! While I didn't get any pictures, I did meet Kiersten White and Cindy Pon (both at Kiersten's signing, interestingly enough). Then, last week, I got to play native guide to Gary Corby, who is just as cool and full of fascinating historical info in person as he is online. WH and I had a fabulous time at his signing, where we also met P.L. Gaus, who writes Amish murder mysteries. We then spent Saturday showing Gary around our famous San Diego zoo (during which Gary, Scott and I had a long discussion about the possibility of owning a wallaby, and the ways someone could die by various animals) and topped off the evening by getting the only food I can think of that screams "San Diego"-- fish tacos, from a bar on the beach, by the pier. I hope Gary had as much fun with us as we did with him. Here we are at his signing:

We all look much happier in the picture on his blog. We were having a good time, I swear.

And while I neglected to take any pictures of Gary at the zoo (especially near the World's Largest Rodent [a capybara]), I did take a picture of the souvenir Gary brought me from Australia:

Thanks, Gary. I'm still working up the nerve to try it.

Aaaaaand I got to buy and then therefore read his book! Here I am, reading it:

There will be a review up here soon!

Q: Did you get any writing done?

A: Well, yes, actually. Not nearly as much as I'd have liked, but I did. I have a 43K "first draft" of my mystery done and, thanks to Gary, am moving ahead full force to start really querying my second novel, V. And this time I mean it. Sorry, where did that come from?

Q: So, uh, did anything else happen while you were gone?

A: Aside from all that I mentioned above, not really. All in all, I'm glad I decided to take the break because I honestly would have been too busy and too stressed out to be a good blogger. But on the same hand, I am SO glad to be back amongst my writer friends and catch up on everyone's lives. And while I can't guarantee that I'm back with gusto, I'm going to try to post at least twice a week, and you'll see me commenting again.

So now here's a question for you:

How have you been?